Crushes in the conservative world

The Strib reprinted a column by Andrew Klavan, from the LA Times, about the conservative coming out of playwright David Mamet. It is equal parts crooning about the superiority of the conservative ideals and liberal bashing.

Gush Alert

Mamet, on the other hand, is a pillar of the arts. I don’t know if he’s America’s greatest living playwright, but I’m hard-pressed to think of a better one.

Now this confuses me a little

The journey that Mamet, 60, has made from being what he calls a “brain-dead liberal” to acknowledging the genius of philosophers such as Thomas Sowell and Milton Friedman is a difficult one for an artist.

Milton Friedman as a philosopher, I thought he was an economist. That 1976 Nobel Prize in Economics reinforces my impression of him.

“Yes,” we might say to ourselves, “it certainly does seem that history has vindicated those warmongering right-wingers who opposed the Soviet Union. And really, in secret, one must admit that women and men are pretty fundamentally different. It does seem true, as well, that government programs manifestly worsen the problems they’re designed to solve, whereas freedom in markets and ideas always seems strangely to improve things. … But that doesn’t mean I’m a conservative! Conservatives are mean, racist, sexist, greedy — and they hate gay people, who are an artist’s colleagues and friends! I’m nothing like that.”

So Mamet and Klavan are going to be protesting the economic stimulus package and the recent bailout of Bear Stearns, after all that is government intervention, a tainting of the purity of the free market, which at times is like a whole new religion (without tax exempt status). Where are those protests?

But he also will discover a right wing he never knew. He will discover thinkers who seek historical and moral truth as if it really mattered, and writers who defend liberty as if it were what in fact it is: the prerequisite of full humanity. Rather than the low and tiresome obsession of the left with the color of people’s skins, he will find people who embrace a philosophical colorblindness. He will meet women of intelligence and competence who — mirabile dictu — don’t despise men and manliness but openly admire them.

Ah, colorblindness, code for we can’t be overly racists any more, so instead we will cry racism when programs (affirmative action) attempt to balance that institutional racism that exists in American society.

Where are the all the conservative writers who are decrying the loss of civil liberties to the Patriot Act? And on the woman issue, I am sure seeing independent woman who consider themselves equals (and maybe still be attracted to Brawny man) causes Klavan to cross the street at night, they are so scary and dangerous.

I did a little looking at this Klavan person, he is now a contributing editor to a quarterly magazine by the Manhattan Institute. What kind of company does he keep at the MI?

Looking toward the future, the Manhattan Institute launched the Young Leaders Circle in January 2007, to provide a forum for young professionals in the New York metropolitan area interested in free-market ideas and public policy. The circle already has over 100 members, who hear such leading thinkers as David Brooks, Shelby Steele, William Kristol, and Steve Forbes discuss the pressing issues of the day in an evening lecture and cocktail party series.

Of course, this same quarterly journal also features a well known name from the run up to the Iraq invasion, Judith Miller.

The MI is very free-market (which also means anti-regulation) and looks to be libertarian with healthy doses of self-reliance (anti welfare, will social welfare) in their ideology. Clearly a think tank that is at odds with my world outlook. Although one of their writers did come out against the Bear Stearns bailout.



Lies on the comic pages

If you ever have endured reading Mallard Fillmore, the conservative comic, then this cartoon won’t come as a surprise to you.

Mallard Fillmore

The lie, and it is a big one, which could have been changed to the truth, had he included one word, that word is income before taxes.

The rebate could conceivably go to some people who don’t pay any taxes, but I really doubt it, and if someone can document that person, I will issue an apology.

See folks pays lots of taxes. We pay sales tax, we pay taxes on our utilities, we pay property taxes, we pay payroll taxes and the list goes on. While it is true these aren’t federal income taxes, they are taxes that most people pay.

And as previous post of mine about different types of economic stimulus showed, the bang for the buck with rebates everyone is more effective $1.26 when applied to everyone rather than just to those that pay federal income tax $1.02 (both amounts per $1 spent).

But Mr. Tinsley doesn’t really care about the effect of a stimulus package, he is more concerned with pushing his conservative view point. The issue to them is that income taxes are too high, and too progressive so that rich people pay more (as a percentage) than poor people. And that poor people, which is those that have no federal income tax liability, get enough handouts through social services, shouldn’t be allowed to get any support from the rebate program.

That makes some sense, if you decide that remaining ignorant is how you wish to travel through life. See, for those people with no federal income tax, but who work, they still pay payroll taxes, which is 7.65% out of their paycheck. This money goes to the Social Security Administration (SSA), and currently SSA is running a surplus which the federal government borrows against. So in reality for those paying payroll taxes, they are contributing to the funding of these rebates.

If you have heard of the phrase, “drinking the Kool-Aid” that is about those who will take this comic to heart and buy into the ignorance Mr. Tinsley is peddling. So Mr. Tinsley, and much of punditry, are who I call the “folks running the Kool-Aid stand”. He is distributing the Kool-Aid to folks. But some has to make the Kool-Aid crystals, and that is usually the right wing think tanks.

I think a much more fun way to look at this, is to check out the last panel from Get Fuzzy on the same day.

Get Fuzzy


Heritage on inflation

The Heritage Foundation supports recommendations by the Republican Study Committee, my biggest surprise  this year…well actually pretty predictable. Of these recommendations, there is only one that I think a strong case can be made for, and that is ending capital gains taxation on the inflation of an asset.

End the Capital Gains Tax on Inflation. The bill would index for inflation the cost basis used when calculating the capital gains tax on assets acquired before the end of 2008. Under current law, capital gains are not adjusted for inflation. This counterproductive and unfair policy raises effective capital gains tax rates, forcing investors to retain assets and inhibiting new investments.

But to get me to support that, I would have a condition.  And to the Heritage Foundation, I think it would be very unpalatable.  That condition would be to tie the minimum wage to inflation.   Some states do this, but if the Heritage Foundation wanted economic fairness for all classes of people, not just the investor class and corporations, advocating for small incremental increases to the minimum wage would be a nice step in this direction.

Don’t worry, I am not holding my breath, turning purple, or passing out while I write this.  It is abundantly clear from this web page Minimum Wage Resources that it won’t happen.


Voodoo Economics at Heritage Foundation

So the Heritage Foundation is commenting on the good and bad in the stimulus package that has been reported in the press. I am going to focus on one part of it.

An even better approach would have been to extend the pro-growth elements of the 2003 tax cuts, which reduced taxation of capital gains and dividends. Those tax cuts and the bonus depreciation helped spark the economy in the latter part of 2003. Since investment is forward-looking, many businesses are in the process of making investment decisions for 2011 and beyond. Permanent reductions in the cost of capital would help the economy by eliminating the uncertainty that businesses face when making investment considerations.

Ah, the push to make the tax cuts permanent, how very predictable. In fact we heard the same thing when they were more optimistic on the economy just one year ago.

Although PAYGO may prevent new entitlement spending in the 110th Congress, lawmakers should rework the rule before 2010 so that it does not prevent extensions of the tax relief passed in 2001 and 2003. A massive tax hike like the expiration of these tax cuts would do lasting harm to the economy and threaten the jobs market. In addition, higher taxes on dividends and capital gains would likely depress the stock market, where most retirement savings are invested, and so an ill-conceived PAYGO rule could increase retirement insecurity at the very moment when many Americans can least afford it.

What I am very unclear with is how promoting investments for 2011 and beyond is going to boost the economy now?


Conservative elites at the Heritage Foundation

Since I wrote the other blog on the economic stimulus package, I was peeking around at the Heritage Foundation web site and found a press release from today that is the basis of this post.

In one ad, Kennedy accuses the U.S. government of cutting the federal budget for heating oil assistance while a picture of the White House floats in the background. The placement of the ads also appears politically motivated. How else to explain, for example, why the ads are running on “Meet the Press With Tim Russert” and “FOX News Sunday with Chris Wallace,” shows for savvy political insiders that presumably have few viewers that qualify for heating oil assistance?

Well according the ACF the 2006 amount was $3.08 billion and 2007 was $2.19 billion. So in recent years what the Heritage Foundation sees as an accusation is a fact. But by using accuses they are trying to put it in dispute.

Now the 2nd part of that paragraph is the basis of the title of this post. Basically they are saying that poor folk that could qualify for the assistance don’t watch the Sunday morning political shows. That might be true, but it definitely is a statement that reeks of elitism.

Further on they continue the attack on the populist Chavez, by bringing out this,

By comparison, the large numbers of people living in poverty and extreme poverty in Venezuela ought to be an embarrassment for Citgo and Kennedy. After Chavez’s eight years in office and the receipt of more than $600 billion in oil revenues, Venezuelans at all income levels are no better off.

Crime, corruption, inflation and food scarcities are rampant. The average per capita income in Venezuela is less than one-sixth of America’s and millions of Venezuela’s extremely poor earn less than $1 a day.

That sounds horrible. Chavez is helping poor Americans, how dare he, while neglecting the poor folk at home. Yet, the data that the Center for Economic and Policy Research issued in July 2007 (pdf) doesn’t jive with that.

The poverty rate has decreased rapidly from its peak of 55.1 percent in 2003 to 30.4 percent at end of 2006, as would be expected in the face of the very rapid economic growth during these last three years. Table 3 shows the poverty rate since 1997, by household and population. If we compare the pre-Chávez poverty rate (43.9 percent) with end of 2006 (30.4 percent) this is a 31 percent drop in the rate of poverty, which is substantial.

But wait, there’s more.

However this poverty rate measures only cash income – it does not take into account the increased access to health care or education that poor people have experienced. As we have shown previously, taking the most conservative estimate of just the value of the health care benefits – what the poor would have spent on health care in the absence of these new programs – would lower the measured poverty rate by about 2 percentage points.

and even more

The Chávez government has greatly increased social spending, including spending on health care, subsidized food, and education. The state oil company alone was responsible for $13.3 billion (7.3 percent of GDP) of social spending last year.

The most pronounced difference has been in the area of health care. In 1998 there were 1,628 primary care physicians for a population of 23.4 million. Today, there are 19,571 for a population of 27 million. In 1998 there were 417 emergency rooms, 74 rehab centers and 1,628 primary care centers compared to 721 emergency rooms, 445 rehab centers and 8,621 primary care centers (including the 6,500 ‘check-up points,’ usually in poor neighborhoods, and that are in the process of being expanded to more comprehensive primary care centers) today. Since 2004, 399,662 people have had eye operations that restored their vision. In 1999, there were 335 HIV patients receiving antiretroviral treatment from the government, compared to 18,538 in 2006.

The Venezuelan government has also provided widespread access to subsidized food. By 2006, there were 15,726 stores throughout the country that offered mainly food items at subsidized prices (with average savings of 27% and 39% compared to market prices in 2005 and 2006, respectively). These plus expanded special programs for the extremely poor (e.g., soup kitchens and food distribution) benefited an average of 67 percent and 43 percent of the population in 2005 and 2006 respectively. These do not include the 1.8 million children that were beneficiaries of a school food program in 2006, compared with 252,000 children in 1999.

Access to education has also increased substantially. For example, the number of students in ‘Bolivarian schools’ (primary education) increased from 271,593 for the 1999/2000 school year to 1,098,489 for the 2005/2006 school year. Over one million people also participated in adult literacy programs.

So it sure looks like the Chavez run government is helping poor people at home and in the US. Not what the Heritage Foundation would have you think.